See — you remember now? — there was a time when a grown man having a leisurely day with his friends and family and like-minded strangers would have been wearing socks, pulled halfway up to his too-short shorts, topped off in a polyester shirt, and that was a mistake. And a time long before that when men wore suits and hats to baseball games. (Now you would only see this kind of thing on a Gen Z fashion influencer, demonstrating just how many miles separate the mythic Margaritaville from the angst of Ironyville.)
Buffett, who died Friday at 76, showed these men the way. He was our nation’s barefoot boomer style icon, a kind of pied piper of vacationland, whose music (most notably the 1977 hit “Margaritaville”) and, perhaps more crucially, whose style vibe came to stand for modern escapism, getting away from it all, mellowing out with a few days off.
It’s the bliss state of certain men and women who have, by circumstance or hard work or privilege (or a combo plate of all three), come to find themselves as often as possible at the beach, at the lake, at the river, even just at the pool. You didn’t have to submit entirely to the ways of “Parrotheads,” those loyal Buffett fans who took their adoration to a niche-market extreme. Buffett time, like 5 o’clock, is always happening somewhere. If there’s a bar and a sound system and a menu heavy with appetizers, you’re probably in Margaritaville (mentally, at least, if not at one of Buffett’s fully licensed restaurants of the same name), and this was Dad’s favorite place to be. Pass the SPF 50.
1/2 The Godfather of lifestyle. Jimmy started it all and took it farther than anyone. He taught us all how to live. Jimmy taught us all how to wear shorts, flip-flops and a worn out T-shirt, walk on stage, as well as your favorite restaurant, and be comfortable. pic.twitter.com/ekmVW6VDed
— Sammy Hagar (@sammyhagar) September 2, 2023
But even Buffett’s party tunes suavely harnessed an undertow of middle-aged melancholy — songs that hit a little different on the 749th listen.
It was easy to be cynical about Jimmy Buffett. This laid-back rascal crooning about lazy days and wrong turns — who can’t relate to that? — had quietly become a multimillionaire by selling not just his music but also his supposed devil-may-care lifestyle to the world. If he was once the pirate-busker of Florida’s Mile Zero, he had become a mogul with a fleet of lawyers who might sue anyone who thought about putting “margarita” in their restaurant’s name.
In those early Key West days, there was nothing to suggest that this was a future lifestyle icon, rising to the ranks of a Martha Stewart, a Hugh Hefner or an Oprah Winfrey. He looked like everyone else of that moment, every child of Woodstock trying to find an air of maturity without growing up or giving in. A David Crosby ’stache, James Taylor locks, a hat that could have been lifted from Gram Parsons, maybe a puka-shell necklace. He looked like an Eagle, or at least someone an Eagle might have hired to replace the kitchen cabinets in a house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, who winds up staying the weekend, playing guitar.
Buffett kept that look and evolved it, taking a few pages from “The Official Preppy Handbook.” His variation, though, was about looking as if you owned a boat, not a yacht. Not trying too hard — the ethos depended on it. Thanks to a combination of Jimmy Buffett, Tommy Bahama and the relentless pursuit of sweat-less golf wear, much floor space in the men’s section of any department store is now given over to a man’s desire to never look as if he’s trying too hard, or trying at all.
From the dawn of the rock generation, the biggest stars have had to contend with ever-increasing frontiers in aging, in an inherently youthful genre. Elvis struggled, having no role model to follow, and died before figuring out life after jumpsuits. The legends of the ’60s and ’70s now tour the casinos and outdoor festivals decked out in calmer, more assured versions of the spangle and sartorial peacocking that brought them here — and kept them here, longer than anyone imagined pop stars could live. They all end up looking like they are wearing a costume of some kind. Buffett transcended this by convincing the rest of the world to wear the same costume.
Take a vacation anywhere, coastal or midcountry, walk into the resorts or hotel bars, find the marina, put in for a table for eight people on the back deck. Once more, you’re in some form of your own Margaritaville, where management has learned precisely what playlist is required: Marley, the Eagles, Creedence; a pinch of yacht rock, a little Motown, a little Beatles.
And never forget Jimmy Buffett, nor the man at the head of the table enjoying himself, tapping his foot, his face ruddy from the day’s sun. Signaling to the waitress that he’ll be the one who gets the check.
POST AUTHOR: Amy Argetsinger, Hank Stuever